Bee Aware

The fearsome Winter of 2014 is just a memory now, and the warm, humid Indiana summer has finally begun in earnest. I’m still waiting to see my first firefly, but the bees have been out in force. The bumble bees floating amongst the wild honeysuckle, the honey bees busily tending to newly blooming gardens everywhere, industriously reassuring us that summer is really here and all is well.

But is it? Back in April, the Indianapolis Museum of Art and Slow Food Indy, along with a number of dedicated Indianapolis beekeepers, hosted a showing of More than Honey, an Academy Award-nominated documentary directed by Markus Imhoof. This extraordinary film examines honeybee colonies — and the humans they interact with — in Switzerland, California, China and Australia. The photography, much of it from the bees’ point of view, is breathtaking. You fly along with bees as they search for nectar, find their way home, build and care for their hives, Queens and larvae, and make honey. In one astonishing scene a Queen is even filmed mating — in mid-flight.

It’s almost impossible to watch this film without developing some sort of emotional connection to the bees and, to some extent, their keepers. Which is why watching the segments that deal with the epidemic collapse of bee colonies around the world is so difficult. These alarming events are variously due to Colony Collapse Disorder (a mysterious affliction in which entire colonies of bees abandon their hives, never to return, presumably dead), bacteria, viruses, mites, pesticides, and even from traveling hours and hours on semi-trailers from one massive monoculture pollinating job to another.

All that hard work, only to die prematurely, most likely due to human interference.

Consider this: about 80 percent of plants require honeybees for pollination. Without honeybees, we would say goodbye to not just their honey, but also apples, nuts, avocados, soybeans, asparagus, broccoli, celery, squashes, cucumbers, citrus fruits, peaches, cherries, strawberries, blueberries, melons and so much more. The clover and alfalfa that feed cattle, goats and sheep are pollinated by bees. Without honeybees we would starve.

The bees are telling us a cautionary tale. What nature has wrought is so immensely complex, so perfectly balanced, that we humans cannot truly foresee how good, bad, or even catastrophic our efforts to control nature will be. Every diverse eco-system bulldozed into vast stretches of corn and soybeans, every forest razed for yet another business or home development, every bottle of weed killer or insecticide has its consequences, and we will have to live with them — even if the bees cannot.

About the Author
Lorrie Wehr is an Indianapolis writer and sometimes-artist who believes sharing good food is the key to a good life.